The Anchorage Assembly once again entertained the issue of an equal protection ordinance aimed at prohibiting workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT residents of the municipality Tuesday night.
After two days of public testimony, this week’s assembly meeting hosted numerous amendments and copious opportunities for debate among the eleven member body.
The chambers within the Loussac were packed with opponents of the ordinance, clad in red attire, with a small number of proponents rounding out the balance.
During closing statements, Eagle River Assembly member Bill Starr broke with decorum, left his seat on the dais, put on a red vest, and stood at the lectern where public testimony is offered. The majority of those in attendance, who opposed the law, offered him a round of applause.
“What I wanted to say is that legislation by trial and error, Mr. Flynn, is very dangerous. And Mr. Evans, if you can say that nothing has happened — and I hope it doesn’t happen — that’s all well and good. But I’ll venture to say right now that things have already happened. We’ve divided our community. These folks in red have to be here to make sure that we do our job. We’ve divided that. We’ve lost their confidence and we’ve lost their trust in us to do the right thing.”
“I’ll tell you what red is,” Starr added. “It’s the blood of Jesus Christ folks. That’s what it represents.”
“I respect your religious beliefs, I really do,” Assembly member Elvi Gray Jackson responded. “But I know for a fact that homosexuality is not a choice. Okay? I knew my nephew was gay when he was two years old and it wasn’t a choice. When his mother died in my arms and I promised her that I would take care of him, and I have. Anyway, what we’re about to do this evening — it’s not the right thing to do, it’s simply the only thing to do.”
“It’s a privilege for me to sit in this char and press this button,” Assembly member Amy Demboski responded. “I was elected by the people of Chugiak and Eagle River, but I serve everyone. And I take my service very very seriously. And it’s a service to country, and it’s a service to God, and I will not deviate. I believe in the constitution. I believe in the First Amendment. Congress shall pass no law to abridge the free exercise of religion. That means something to me. So, tonight, as we go through amendments, and I get a little emotional — why? Because I see what this Assembly is doing today.”
Assembly member Demboski touted her respect for Gray-Jackson, but said that they would not always agree.
“Elections have consequences, and pay attention, because the individual who said that is going to be running for Assembly,” Demboski added.
But when we’re talking about sexual orientation and gender identity; when we’re talking about these buzzwords, I’ve heard it said from Mr. Evans and everybody, we shouldn’t tell people who they should love, who the heck is telling people who they should love? Not me. I haven’t heard anybody say, “you should or shouldn’t love that person.” No one. I haven’t heard it. So, when we start having these discussions and we’re talking about it, let’s be intellectually honest here. The government is not telling you who you can or cannot love. The government is not saying, because you’re LGBTQIA, that you cannot own property or you cannot vote or you can’t serve in elective office.
I’ve got to tell you, I’ve met people that — I have dear friends that have a different sexual orientation than I do. And you know what? Some days I think they’re better — some of them are better people than I am. I try every day. I am a sinner. I know it. And I work on that. I’m not perfect. And I don’t stand in judgment of my fellow man.
So those are the two things that I wanted to really hit on. Was the equality thing, where people keep saying they’re not equal. Yes you are. We’re all Americans. We’re all Alaskans. And we all live here in Anchorage. We all can learn from each other. And the moment you stop thinking that, the moment you’ve just lost out on a great opportunity. The other thing I hear is, by basically adhering to the First Amendment, by allowing religious protections — it’s not exceptions, it’s not exemptions, they are constitutionally guaranteed protections — by allowing religious protections, somehow, as a government, we’re facilitating discrimination.
The fact of the matter is no we’re not. We’re living up to our founding fathers’ principles, that each of us should be able to live freely and practice our religion freely. It’s not hurting anybody because somebody believes homosexuality is a sin and somebody else believes it’s not. That’s not going to hurt you. But what does hurt you is when your government comes to you and says to you, “We know better than you. We are here to rule you. This is the tyranny of the Anchorage Assembly, and you can only take it back if you get out to vote. And next election will be in April, 2016. Every single person in the audience and listening should go out, phone ten friends, get involved, and you know what? Throw them out of office.
The audience applauded.
“The thought’s not lost on me,” Honeman responded. He acknowledged that he grew up in a rural area that was predominantly white. “And yet, we did good things for our community. If someone’s house or barn burned down, we actually put working parties together and we built it back up from the ground.”
Honeman said that Anchorage was in a moment where we should reflect on our history.
“Our constitution [said that] all men are created equal. And yet, in the 1920s we actually had to have a constitutional amendment to say that women were equal. It wasn’t some 50 years later that the Supreme Court is still ruling, in the 70s, that, yes, that means discrimination based on someone’s sex was illegal,” Honeman said. “It is absolutely clear we are all equal. So, to say that we need special rights for anyone, or qualifiers for who’s equal or what rights, is almost disgusting in its own self. But unfortunately and sadly in our nation we had to go there. And we’re at a time where I believe we’re on the cusp — I have no doubt, I have no qualms that I think that our community is going to speak loud and clear and say we either got it right or got it wrong.”
And with that, the Anchorage Assembly passed Ordinance 96, 9-2.
Voting yes: Honeman, Steele, Flynn, Traini, Gray-Jackson, Evans, Petersen, Johnston, and Hall.
Voting no: Starr and Demboski.
In other words, Anchorage: 9, Eagle River: 2.
Next stop, a referendum on the April ballot, along with 5 seats on the Assembly. It is not yet clear if a referendum will be allowed. More to come on that topic.
For now, AO-96 passed. That should qualify as a win and a well deserved restful sleep. And enjoy the snow.